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Tuesday, 25 September, 2001, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
UK seeks to heal Israel rift
Jack Straw
Jack Straw "fully understood" Israeli sensitivities
The UK is seeking to heal a diplomatic rift with Israel over comments Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made ahead of his high-profile visit to Iran.

The remarks in a press article were believed to have triggered Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to cancel a planned meeting with Mr Straw - although it has now been reinstated.


No offence was intended through the use of the language

Tony Blair's spokesman
His comments included the words: "One of the factors which helps breed terrorism is the anger which many people in this region feel at events over the years in Palestine."

Israeli officials are angry at the implied blame for the 11 September attacks on the US while the term "Palestine" suggests an element of statehood that Israel does not recognise.

An Israeli government minister called the remarks "abominable" and attacked Mr Straw's visit to Tehran as "a stab in the back for Israel".

More significantly, it was announced Mr Sharon's schedule meant a planned meeting with the foreign secretary could not take place.

'No offence intended'

But on Tuesday a spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair told reporters: "The usual phrase that we use is the Palestinian Authorities, no offence was intended through the use of the language."

A 15-minute phone call between Mr Blair and Mr Sharon - at the Israeli prime minister's request - soothed things still further and shortly afterwards it was announced that the diplomatically crucial meeting was back on.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell said Mr Straw's choice of expression had been "inappropriate".

Mr Campbell added it was important to keep an eye on the bigger picture and he praised the foreign secretary for winning a "very considerable prize" during his visit to Iran.

"That's bound to be effective in helping to maintain that important coalition of interests which President Bush requires and which Mr Blair has made such efforts to try and fashion in order to provide a concerted approach in the long term to the problem of terrorism," Mr Campbell said.

Earlier the foreign secretary, speaking in Tehran after what he called "warm and constructive" talks with his Iranian opposite number Dr Kamal Kaharrazi, also moved to calm Israeli anger.


I fully understand the sensitivities in Israel

Jack Straw
"I fully understand the sensitivities in Israel, the fact that they have to live with the almost daily consequences of brutal terrorism and their sensitivities about other nations in the region," he told reporters.

"We have judged that developing a broader based international consensus following the attacks on September 11 is of huge importance, however, to this region as a whole and world peace more widely."

Later, at a joint press conference where both sides expressed horror at the recent terrorist attack in the US, Dr Kharrazi warned against allowing Israel to exploit the situation.

"We should not allow the racist, Zionist regime to exploit this present situation and continue the killings of Palestinians."

Description rejected

Mr Straw stressed his rejection of those descriptions of Israel, saying there were still differences on some issues between Iran and Britain.

However, he insisted that there was "absolute agreement between us as to our joint horror... against the atrocities committed against thousands of American people, but also well over 1,000 people of the Muslim faith".

"We stand together in opposing terrorism of that kind."

Reiterating that the UK supported the toppling of Afghanistan's Taleban regime, Mr Straw said the West would be ready to help rebuild the country's political, social and economic infrastructure following a change of government.

Mr Straw's tour of the Middle East is designed to help revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to win Iran's support of a global fight against terrorism in the wake of the US attacks.

He started with a brief stopover in Jordan, where he had talks with King Abdullah II and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and moves on to Israel and then Egypt later in the week.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Wood
"This is about the business of building a coalition"
UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw
speaks upon his arrival in Tel Aviv
Dore Gold, Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs
"Many Israelis were very disturbed"

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